Definitions

Prince-bishop of Wurzburg

Prince-Bishop

A Prince-Bishop is a bishop who is a territorial Prince of the Church on account of one or more secular principalities, usually pre-existent titles of nobility held concurrently with their inherent clerical office. If the see is an archbishopric, the correct term is prince-archbishop; the equivalent in the regular clergy is a prince-abbot.

In the West, with the decline of imperial power from the 4th century onwards in the face of the barbarian invasions, sometimes Christian bishops of cities took the place of the Roman commander, made secular decisions for the city and led his own troops when necessary. Later relations between a prince-bishop and the burghers were not invariably cordial. As cities demanded charters from emperors or kings and declared themselves independent of the secular territorial magnates, friction intensified between burghers and bishops.

In the Byzantine Empire, the still autocratic Emperors passed general legal measures assigning all bishops certain rights and duties in the secular administration of their dioceses, but that was part of a caesaropapist development putting the Eastern Church in the service of the Empire, with its Ecumenical Patriarch almost reduced to the Emperor's minister of religious affairs. The Russian empire went even further, abolishing its own patriarchy and placing the church under direct control of the secular government.

Holy Roman Empire

Bishops had been involved in the government of the Frankish realm and subsequent Carolingian empire frequently as the clerical member of a duo of envoys styled Missus dominicus, but that was an individual mandate, not attached to the see.

Prince-bishoprics were most common in the feudally fragmented Holy Roman Empire, where many were formally awarded the rank of Reichsfürst ("Prince of the Empire"), granting them representation in the Reichstag (imperial Diet).

They were finally dissolved in most countries by Napoleon Bonaparte, with the downfall of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1806. However in some countries outside of French control, such as Austria and Prussia the institution continued, and in some cases was revived; a new, titular type arose.

In Germany proper

No less than three of the (originally only seven) Prince-electors, the highest order of Reichsfürsten (comparable in rank with the French pairs), were Prince-archbishops, each holding the title of Archchancellor (the only archoffice amongst them) for a part of the Empire; given the higher importance of an electorate, their principalities were known as Kurfürstentum ('electoral principality') rather than prince-archbishoprics:

Other prince-archbishoprics were

Other prince-bishoprics in present Germany were those of:

Furthermore there were prince-bishoprics in neighbouring regions, then considered part of Germany (the Holy Roman Empire minus all other realms within the empire), notably in the former central kingdom of Lotharingia, now in France's region Alsace-Lorraine:

In Austria

Furthermore, among of its suffragans:

In Switzerland

In present Italy

  • the prince-archbishopric of the patriarch of Aquileia, known because of its superior ecclesiastical rank as patriarchate
  • the bishop (and count) of Brescia
  • the bishop of Brixen (Bressanone in Italian), until 1964
  • the bishop of Trent (Trento in Italian, Trient in German)
  • the bishop of Triest held the homonymous countship (it had earlier been a duchy)

In the Low Countries

  • Liège in present Belgium; Luik, Lüttich
  • Cambrai (Kamerijk in Dutch; an archiocese 1559-1802), now in France, was a medium-size prince-bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire, which in 1007, St. Henry II invested with authority over the countship of Cambrésis, remaining a real prince-(arch)bishopric until under Louis XIV it became French in 1678, and ecclesiastically covered long about all the western part of Belgium (the rest was under Liège).
  • the bishopric of Utrecht had a surrounding Sticht (Stift), until its conversion into a temporal lordship in 1527 (later became the only Dutch archbishopric), but also a far larger Oberstift ('Opper Stift'), in Germany proper, also until secularized and broke up (mainly lordships of Overijssel, 1528 and of Drenthe, 1538) , only later raised to metropolitan rank

Those three were all (at least originally) suffragans of the elector (prince-archbishop) of Cologne

In the East

  • The prince-bishop of Kammin, presently in Poland
  • In Silesia, since bishop Preczlaus of Pogarell (1341-1376) bought the Duchy of Grottkau from Duke Boleslaw of Brieg and added it to the episcopal territory of the Fürstentum von Neiße, the Bishops of Breslau were Fürst (Prince) of Neiße and Herzog (Duke) of Grottkau, and took precedence over the other Silesian rulers
  • In the non-Slavonic Baltic region of Ermland was the Fürstbischof zu Ermland a Hochstift since 1243, sovereign Reichsfürst since 1251; in Polish: Ksiaże biskup Warmiński, since 1454 incorporated in Poland (recognized by him only in 1464) as a part of (West) Royal Prussia, 1466 under direct Polish crown sovereignty, 1479 re-established as autonomous prince-bishopric under the Polish crown, 1772 abolished at Prussian annexation (First partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth)

The career of Albert of Buxhoeveden and his brother Herman exemplify the double nature of power, especially on the marches of Europe, where Roman Catholicism was pushed aggressively to the East. At the opening of the 13th century, the time of the Third Crusade, Albert, with a fleet of ships and a thousand crusaders, began the Christianization of the Eastern Baltic region, with the blessing of Pope Innocent III, his uncle the Archbishop of Hamburg and Bremen, and of King Philip of the Holy Roman Empire, who created the former canon of Bremen a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (1207) and Livonia (Latvia and part of Estonia) as a fief. The Prince built his own cathedral at Riga, the city which he founded.

  • The Czech bishopric (later Metropolitan) of Olmütz, as a vassal principality of the Bohemian crown, was the peer of the margraviate of Moravia, and from 1365 its prince-bishop was 'Count of the Bohemian Chapel', i.e. first court chaplain, who was to accompany the Monarch on his frequent travels.

Elsewhere

Former Ottoman territories

The vladikas of Cetinje, who took the place of the earlier secular (Grand) Voivodes in 1516 in the unique position of Slavonic, Orthodox prince-bishops under Ottoman (i.e. Islamic) suzerainty, actually became the secularized, hereditary princes and ultimately kings of Montenegro in 1852, as reflected in their styles: first Vladika i upravitelj Crne Gore i Brde "Vladika [bishop] and Ruler of Montenegro and Brda"; (b) from 13 March 1852 (New Style): Po Bozjoj milosti knjaz i gospodar Crne Gore i Brde "By the grace of God Prince and Sovereign of Montenegro and Brda"; (c) from 28 August 1910 (New Style): Po Bozjoj milosti kralj i gospodar Crne Gore "By the grace of God, King and Sovereign of Montenegro".

In England

The Bishops of Durham were also territorial Prince Bishops, with the extraordinary secular rank of Earl palatine, for it was their duty not only to be head of the large diocese, but also to help protect the Kingdom against the Scottish threat from the north. The title survived the union of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 until 1836.

In France

Apart from Cambrai (see above, Low Countries), no French diocese had a principality of political significance linked to its see.

However, a number of French Bishops did hold a noble title, with a tiny territory usually about their seat; it was often a princely title, especially Count. Indeed, six of the original Pairies (the royal vassals awarded with the highest precedence at Court) were episcopal: the Archbishop of Reims and five other Bishops (suffragans to Reims, except the Bishop of Langres); the three highest ones held a ducal title and the others a comital title.

They were later joined by the Archbishop of Paris, with a ducal title, but with precedence over the others. See also Peerage of France.

In Portugal

The bishop of Coimbra held the comital title Count of Arganil.

Beyond Catholic feudalism

While one might expect that the Protestant Schism, Counter-Reformation and more modern regimes than the traditional feudal principality would have eradicated the prince-bishopric, they didn't quite.

Even when the true prince-(arch)bishoprics disappeared from the map of Europe as it was redrawn by Napoleon I Bonaparte (who caused the end of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Congress of Vienna after his defeat, the title found a new, titular use. In the Habsburg dynasty's "new" empire, the Danubian Double Monarchy Austria-Hungary, reduced to the parts south of Prussia's (German) sphere of dominance that would become the (largely Protestant) German Empire, actual territorial power was no longer held by the bishops, but the status of Fürst(erz)bisschof was maintained, and could be given a similar political role in the more modern, almost standardized Cisleithanian provincial level, the Kronland 'crown land', as ex officio members of its Landtag, the representative and legislative assembly, often with Virilstimme, while other bishops could collectively be represented as a 'prelates bench' (an elected Kurie).

The Emperors of Austria now bestowed the title upon Bishops even without any feudal principality, but as a princely style and rank (as had been usual for centuries with secular noble titles of peerage ranks) awarded to episcopal sees, carrying the privilege of a seat in the estates, e.g. for the bishop of Laibach (as a consolation prize for the see's loss of metropolitan rank to Graz).

Special cases

The ultimate Prince Bishop is the Bishop of Rome, i.e. the Pope, universal head (Supreme Pontiff) of the Roman Catholic Church. His claims to territorial power were bolstered by the fraudulent early-Medieval document Donation of Constantine, and the authentic Donation of Pepin, establishing the Patrimonium Petri which was further extended as the powerful Papal States. Pope Pius IX was the last of the true, sovereign Prince-Bishops, divested of territorial powers when the Papacy was forced to surrender the rule of Rome in 1870 to the reunited kingdom of Italy, which was supported by liberal-nationalists. The Pope was however made Head of state again of the specially created Vatican City, a small enclave in the Eternal City, by the (later favorably amended) Lateran Treaties with Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy.

The Spanish Catalonian Bishop of Urgell, who no longer has any secular rights in Spain, still is one of the two co-princes of Andorra, along with the Head of State (presently President of the Republic) of France.

See also

Sources, References and External links

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